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How is addiction understood in Islam?

Dr Ali explains how addiction is understood in Islam, using verses from the Quran and classical Islamic sources
Hello, everyone. In this session, we are going to discuss what is the Muslim experience of addiction.
As far as addiction is concerned, addiction is a longing. It’s a desire, OK? Which then can manifest in extreme forms of longing. But in Islam, we have another concept of longing and that is longing for God. In Rumi, we find the very first poem or couplet in Rumi, Rumi discusses a reed, a grass reed, which has been turned into a flute, and the flute is crying and lamenting. And Rumi says, Listen to the story of the reed, it’s talking about its yearning and its longing for its roots. This flute wants to go back to its origin. And this is a metaphor for man.
It is a metaphor for human being that the human being always wants to go back to its origin. The Islamic conception of human being, as Rumi mentions, is to take the wings of an angel and stick it to the tail of a donkey. What that basically means is that the human being has the divine and the profane within it. From an Islamic theological point of view, the human being is created by the breath of God. God says in the Quran that he breathed his spirit into Adam, and therefore every single human being has is afflicted by the breath of God. And it is because of this that the spirit always yearns to go back towards God.
But also human being is also made from clay, is also made from Earth. We find that in the Quran and therefore Earth there is a bit of profanity in the human being. And this base desire wants to pull the human being downwards towards Earth. And this is what Rumi means when he says that the example of the human being is like taking the wings of an angel and attaching it to the to the tail of a donkey. So addiction basically what it does is that it challenges and it complicates and it interferes with this spirit longing for God. The fact that human spirit wants to return to its origin, to God.
However, the addiction which tethers the spirit and tethers the body to these mundane Narcotics, it cages and does not allow the spirit to go back to God. So in that sense, addiction is fracturation of the spirit, or fracturation of the body from the spirit. And this is why addiction is sometimes, in some models, Islamic models it is seen as a sin. Other models addiction is seen as a crime or a punishment. However, there is a thinking among modern Muslim scholars related to autonomy that, yes, to take drugs recreationally is forbidden in Islam. Because of all of these things that I mentioned, that it severs the relationship between God and tethers people to narcotics.
However, once a person becomes addicted and therefore it really becomes out of his control, then the ruling changes. And the question is whether this person has autonomy or not. Then there is a different set of rules that comes in and a different set of compassion that comes in, that this person now has lost autonomy and now requires help from Drug, not drug users, but from drug workers and also from the community. So addiction, in a way, challenges this very core human spiritual identity as it fracturates the human body from its origin, the soul. Thank you very much.

In this video, Dr Ali explains how addiction is understood in Islam, using verses from the Quran and classical Islamic sources and the writing of the Muslim Sufi mystic Jalaluddin al-Rumi (popularly known as Rumi, see Ali 2017).

Addiction tethers the human spirit and body to earthly concerns, preventing the spirit from returning to God. From this perspective, addiction can be seen as sinful, or as a punishment, because it challenges the core of Muslim identity by negatively affecting a person’s relationship with God.

Modern Muslim scholars have developed an alternative conceptualisation of addiction, based around whether the person who is living with addiction has autonomy. Whilst certain acts, such as recreational drug use or gambling are sinful, once a person becomes addicted and is unable to exercise self-control, they should be treated with compassion because they have lost their autonomy. Therefore, they require support from both specialist services and the Muslim community.

In this video at 01:45 Dr Ali says: “God breathed his spirit into Adam”. The quotation from the Qur’an referred to reads:

So when I have fashioned him and had a spirit of My Own ˹creation˺ breathed into him, fall down in prostration to him.” (Qur’an 15:29)
At 02:05 Dr Ali says: “Human beings are also made from clay”. The quotation from the Qur’an referred to reads:
Indeed, We created man from sounding clay moulded from black mud. (Qur’an 15:26)

Over to you

How does the Islamic conceptualisation of addiction, as explained by Dr Ali in this video, relate to your own understanding? Are there any contradictions or similarities?

Share your response below and, if possible, include your professional background so that other learners can appreciate how there may be different approaches from practitioners of various backgrounds.

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